Create Your Own Escape Room

Hi, all! It’s Danielle from Nouvelle ELA, and I’m here today to help you build an Escape Room for your secondary ELA classroom. Hold on tight; it’s going to be a great ride!
Escape Rooms are a collaborative learning game in which students work in teams to solve a series of puzzles, collect codes or keys, and somehow compile their information to “escape” the scenario. They can be as simple or complex as you want, but an effective Escape Room doesn’t have to be difficult to create. Creating a whole Escape Room can be a daunting task, but you absolutely CAN do it.

Today, we’re going to focus on how to create one short, Mini-Escape experience. Your final game will be 10-15 minutes, and your students will get the same collaboration and critical thinking as a longer game.

Using a Secret Message

When I create games for introduction or review, I want students to engage in a puzzle that relies on information they’ve learned from a close read or from an entire unit. They figure out how to input the answers, get pieces of a final code, and somehow decode a Secret Message. You can make the Secret Message anything you want, and you can connect it to a writing activity after the game. In my Poetry Escape Room, I made this a Secret Poem students decode and then analyze. In my Lord of the Flies Escape Room, students show how the Mountaintop Message (“Fancy thinking the Beast…”) illustrates a theme present in the novel. This is a great way to move from the energy of an Escape Room into some calm reflection.

Designing Your Game

We’ll follow the same principles for our Mini-Escape. We are going to choose a standard or a learning objective, decide on our Secret Message and writing activity, and then figure out our puzzle to get students there. I’m going to show you my Syllabus Reconstruction Activity to illustrate each of the steps, but you can use this puzzle for a variety of concepts!

Go ahead and download the Puzzle Template Freebie and play along. :) This is an easy-to-use template for Microsoft PowerPoint that will allow you to start creating your mini-escape right away.

1.       Decide your learning objective or standard.

What will students illustrate they can do or understand at the end of this game? For our Mini-Escape, we’re going to zoom waaaay in on an objective. For my Syllabus Reconstruction Activity, my objective is to introduce students to my syllabus in a fun and engaging way. What will your learning objective be?

2.       Decide on your writing activity and Secret Message.

My Secret Message for my game is a Growth Mindset Quote. After students complete the activity (which will take about ten minutes), I’ll have them ‘cool down’ by writing a paragraph response connecting this quote to their personal experience. (I could easily extend this into two or three paragraphs and have them do some goal-setting, too!)
To make your Secret Message, you'll need a font for your code. I used a Doodle Font for my Syllabus Reconstruction Game, and there are tons of free Doodle Fonts online to choose from. You simply install a font, select your text, and switch it over to your Doodle Font to turn it into code! SO easy! For the free template, I actually show you how to use the Pigpen Cipher. This isn't just a bunch of symbols, but a legitimate cipher that students can figure out once they have a few pieces. In the template, I also provide a place for students to record their code.

3.       Decide on your puzzle.

Creating your puzzles is the super fun part. (The possibilities are endless, but I’ve put together ideas and templates for 30+ puzzles in my Escape Room Resource Box.) In my Syllabus Reconstruction Game, I chose to make five jigsaw puzzles because my syllabus breaks down into five categories: Course Description, Expectations, Reading List, Supplies, and Important Information (contacts, etc.). You can have as many as you want for your game. :)
For this game, students separate Clue Cards into five categories. [I don’t actually tell them they’re jigsaw puzzles – they have to figure it out!] Once they have all of the Course Description clues, for example, they can put together the jigsaw. I created the cards so that each category would give them one symbol from the Secret Message. I made each symbol into an image and use ImageSplitter.Net to cut them into however many pieces I needed. Then, I inserted these into the free Puzzle Template to make the backgrounds of my Clue Cards. I then typed my clues on top and finished up my Answer Sheet.
Once students have all five symbols, they can start solving the message. I also added some bonus symbols to my Clue Cards by bolding certain words and writing them in code on the bottom of the card.

4.       Decoding the Secret Message

Once students have all of this information, they can decode the Secret Message. I usually don’t give them all of the symbols they’ll need, so they’ll still have some deduction to do. You can make this part even more challenging by giving them less information. You can create Hint Cards if groups need them, but it challenges students to think critically about the way letter patterns work.
You should always play through your game at this point to make sure everything works smoothly. ;)

5.       Finishing with Writing

Lastly, circle back to your writing choice. Make a simple prompt and rubric and have these ready to distribute as students finish the game. I also included one of these in the Puzzle Template!

Moving on to Full Escape Rooms

Now that you’ve made a Mini-Escape, you’re ready to make a full game. My games are usually 45 minutes and contain four tasks (three puzzles and the secret message), but the principles are the same: I start with an objective, figure out what I want students to write about, and then move into creating the puzzles.
If you’re interested in a template for a full game for ELA, I have one here in my TpT store. I also have templates for other subject areas. :)
The sky is truly the limit, and I’ve helped teachers build games for a wide variety of units and subject areas. You can transform your classroom and the way your students work together with Escape Rooms, and it all starts with your first idea.

What will yours be?

Escape Room Resources from the Coffee Shop teachers: Figurative Language Escape Room by Presto Plans Macbeth Escape Room by Room 213 Essay Writing Escape Room by The Classroom Sparrow Growth Mindset Escape Room by The Daring English Teacher
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